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    Greater China
     Nov 9, 2005
The US formula for China
By Larry Wortzel and Devin T Stewart

US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld during his visit to China last month underscored the importance of openness, transparency and freedom in East Asia. During the same week, China released a white paper that said the country was a democracy - a socialist one. This claim is not new, however. After all, Chapter 1, Article 1 of the Chinese constitution declares that China is a "people's democratic dictatorship".

Semantics aside, why does the US hope to promote at least the constituent elements of civil society, including freedom of speech, freedom of association, transparency and accountability?

The spread of civil society in East Asia over the past several



years has coincided with stability in the security and economic realms. In line with this trend, greater transparency would help reduce the fear of China posing a near-term military threat, ensure that China contributes to the health of the global economy and clarify its long-term ambitions.

At present, it is unclear what China's intentions are, and therefore what its future role will be in East Asia. "To assess China's intent, analysis of official Chinese strategy documents and white papers must be augmented by examination of what China has accomplished in recent years and is attempting to accomplish in the future," wrote the authors of the Pentagon's 2005 annual report to Congress on Chinese military power. The very opacity of Chinese society can exaggerate the sense of threat because uncertainty creates fear.

The current Chinese emphasis on a "peaceful rise" does not satisfy those who are concerned about its military growth. Instead, those concerned about China's future look to its incursions into Japan's territorial waters, its extensive territorial claims in the South China Sea and its rapid military expansion. These moves are at odds with a peaceful rise. They raise legitimate scrutiny of China's motives.

Related to transparency, greater Chinese freedom of speech would reduce suspicion of China's intentions among its neighbors and would better inform Chinese citizens of political developments inside East Asian countries. Of all people, the Chinese should know that the wisdom of a thousand flowers blooming is superior to that of a trickle of information. Plurality and open debate leads to healthier markets as well as sounder public policy. Even such problems as the secretive banking system and corporate governance would be addressed by more transparency and the rule of law.

Freedom of association and other labor rights help level the playing field among trading partners and reduce the possibility that lower standards will be exploited - known as "social dumping" - at the expense of the environment and welfare of workers in both trading nations. When the citizens of trading partners possess the right of collective bargaining and the right to join labor unions, it protects the welfare of workers as well as the health of the trading system, as claims for protectionism are deflated.

Economic accountability and transparency would reduce the threat of economic surprises that could create shocks to the global economic system. When the policymaking process is transparent, policymakers have a greater incentive to make good policies, and this virtuous cycle contributes to greater confidence in a government's ability to manage its economy.

A China that is strong and prosperous would be more harmonious with the US-led system and its institutions if Chinese civil society were able to flourish. The potential problem with China boils down to alignment and ideology. A classical international relations balance of power assessment of a rising China is appropriate. The future challenge of China is not its military and economic power, per se, but what many states throughout history have done with those assets: balance against perceived rivals.

An undesirable scenario from Washington's perspective is one in which China continues to woo states, such as Myanmar, or continues to do business with states, such as Iran, that are perceived as hostile to American values and tries to sway those that are on the fence, such as South Korea.

The Congressional-Executive Commission on China 2005 report found no improvement in China's human-rights conditions in the past year. The report notes that while China did make progress in judicial and criminal justice reform, the Chinese government "continues to use administrative procedures and vaguely worded criminal laws to detain Chinese citizens arbitrarily for exercising their rights to freedom of religion, speech and assembly".

A world is possible in which states follow China's path to economic growth without the constraints of democratic institutions - the "Beijing consensus". But it would be a more capricious and dangerous place. The "Washington consensus" in support of free markets and free trade, meanwhile, faces widespread criticism within Asia. Unlike radical Islam, China can offer something attractive - prosperity - so an ideological challenge will enjoy greater longevity. If China attracts a significant number of states in an alternative camp, it could challenge the rules of the US-led international system itself. History has not ended.

There are other clear advantages in international relations for China to move toward the institutions of civil society. When public policy is made in secret, inside the black box of the Communist Party's Politburo Standing Committee, China's long-term intentions are hidden. Such secrecy, for example, only increases the perception in other countries that China's military growth is threatening.

The whole concept of a civil society implies a public-policy debate on defense issues that involves the whole population. Such a debate takes place today among informed citizens, legislators and policy makers in Taiwan, South Korea, Japan, the Philippines and the United States, to name but a few of the truly democratic nations that are civil societies.

Legislators in these countries routinely conduct public oversight hearings exploring options on defense policy, strategy and equipment acquisition. Heads of military services and defense ministers explain and justify policies in response to voter concerns. These are public-policy matters and not secrets to be kept from citizens. The costs of military development, acquisition and the component elements of these costs in defense budgets are matters of public record. Thus defense policy, and by inference military intentions, are transparent.

This is not the case with China. The US, and China's neighbors, instead must watch what China is acquiring, gather what intelligence they can, and divine hidden intentions.

Civil society and institutions have been part of American grand strategy for decades. The US has a perfect opportunity to advance its principles at an institution this November. During his visit to China this month, President George W Bush should make a clear case for civil society and its role in peace and stability in East Asia.

Nations that believe in the principles of open, accountable and transparent government should encourage China to move toward a civil society. Such a change would respond to the values and principles these nations live by, and would also reduce apprehension that there are secret threats behind China's policies.

Larry Wortzel is Visiting Fellow, The Heritage Foundation. Devin Stewart is Fellow, Office of the Japan Chair, Center for Strategic and International Studies.

(Copyright 2005 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved. Please contact us for information on sales, syndication and republishing .)


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